"Individuality is itself a good thing." ~Jane Loevinger, Paradigms of Personality.
I got another e-mail starting with, "Hi, I'm looking for the perfect tomato...." The customer proceeds to give me a description of the "perfect tomato". It is red and round with tangy, old-fashioned flavor. Or it is sweet and low in acid, so it won't trigger heartburn. Or it is large, meaty and productive -- great for canning.
Thank goodness we all have different ideas of what the perfect tomato should be. Otherwise, there would be only one tomato in the whole world. My mom grew perfect tomatoes all her life, until I started giving her seedlings a few years ago. She is starting to get used to the weird shapes and colors. But one tomato threw her for a loop this year. She called to tell me that there was a tomato in her garden that was dark purple and lumpy. She assumed that it was deformed because it didn't get enough water. Maybe she planted it in a bad spot. I knew immediately that the tomato in question was Purple Calabash, and I assured her that it was supposed to be that way.
Last summer, my mom took 21 varieties of heirloom tomatoes to the farmer's market. She put the most perfect ones at the front of the table, thinking that they would attract the most attention. But nobody wanted them. They wanted the tomatoes with the weirdest shapes and colors. Wow! People are starting to catch on.
So this year, when I told my mom that we will be growing the most "far out" tomatoes that I could find on the internet, she was excited. I will be closing out some of my old, boring varieties -- you know, the stuff you can get anywhere. I want to concentrate on the rarest varieties. Of course, I'm not neglecting quality or good flavor. What's the point of a yucky tomato, no matter how gorgeous it is? Here's my new criteria for choosing heirloom tomatoes:
1. Great flavor.
2. Early and mid season varieties. I can't grow late tomatoes because I live in zone 5, and I start my seeds in the house. I don't have a greenhouse.
3. Unusual colors. I'm trying several striped varieties this year.
4. Unusual shapes, and a wide variety of sizes.
5. Productivity. Nice to have, but not essential. When you grow dozens of different varieties, you don't need any one variety to be extremely productive.
One of the new varieties I will be growing this year is Berkeley Tie-Dye Heart from Wild Boar Farms. Brad Gates says that it's "about as far as I have gotten from a round, red, tasteless tomato." I'm excited!
Have you ever wondered where the idea of the "perfect tomato" came from? Years ago, I read an article in the February 2000 issue of Discover magazine, which revealed what scientists have learned about beauty. They discovered that people's idea of beauty is actually just average. The scientists have a computer program that combines hundreds of pictures of people into one picture, creating the "perfect woman" or the "perfect man". Everyone who sees these pictures agrees that they are better-looking than any of the individual pictures that make up the combined picture. The big discovery is that the ideal face is just an average of all the faces you've ever seen.
So it follows that the perfect tomato is just an average of all the tomatoes you've ever seen and tasted. If you've only been exposed to grocery store tomatoes, that's all you can imagine. It's time to expand your awareness.
Once you realize that perfection is just an ideal in your mind that has nothing to do with reality, you are free. Think of the Borg in Star Trek, the Nazis in Germany, the Ku Klux Klan, or all-the-same hybrid tomatoes at the grocery store. Perfection is the ultimate horror! Is that really what you want?
Well, I don't want to get too political here, but let's admit it -- we each make choices every day, whether we are aware of them or not. Vote for freedom. Say, "No!" to perfect tomatoes.
The world is beautiful because of its diversity. My perfect world would have as many different tomatoes as possible.